September 2012 – July 2013
The following is an excerpt from my book Saratoga: One Idiot’s Journey to the Winner’s Circle
So many will visit on the big race days to see the greats compete, even if they aren’t intimately familiar with who the horses are and what they have accomplished. They may just be familiar with a horse’s name, they saw in the paper or read it online. Someone they know is a huge fan, told them all about him or her and now they are excited. Sometimes that’s all it takes to spur their interest.
Often we do it simply because we love seeing how fast, strong and powerful a creature they are. We do it because we can witness this one slice of history in an already storied and historic town.
They give us a hero for a day, maybe a year, maybe longer. They can, and have, made us fans for life.
But isn’t it also just as much of a thrill to see the odds-on favorite get beat by some high priced horse that we thought had no business being there in the first place? So many of us love the underdog. The no name player, team or in this case, horse, shake off the chalk at a hundred to one.
The big races at the Spa always give us a piece of racing history and a story to tell long after the race has been run. And ain’t it just the coolest thing?
Man O War suffered the only loss of his career in the Sanford Stakes, to a horse coincidentally named Upset. Onion tops the great Secretariat in The Whitney. It’s In The Air beats Davona Dale in the Alabama. Classy Mirage beats Inside Information in The Ballerina.
One of the biggies involved 1930 Triple Crown champion Gallant Fox.
The hype that surrounded Gallant Fox was mirrored against the hype of the prior year’s racing standout Whichone. The pair met twice before in 1929, each earning a victory over the other. The Fox went to post as the Travers 1-to-2 favorite.
FDR was there. So was his bride, Eleanor. It was a big day and it had the makings of a great duel. But on this day, neither would claim bragging rights.
The track was messy and the Fox had never raced in the off going before.
Gallant Fox and Whichone went at it from the start. They raced heads apart as they passed the stands, into the clubhouse turn and up the backside. At the far turn Whichone carried the Fox wide, opening a huge hole on the rail.
A virtual no-name, Jim Dandy, shot through the opening and raced like a runaway freight train down the lane. He opened up his lead by two, then three lengths. Past the sixteenth pole he was in front by six and his lead was widening. He was 100-1 and the Triple Crown champion could only watch in defeat.
The phrase Graveyard of Champions was then cemented in Saratoga tradition and a legion of racing fans were left with their mouths gaping, all asking the same question: Who in blazes is Jim Dandy?
The fact is, as far as history goes, he wasn’t anything special outside that one day. His Travers upset was the lone victory of his 20 starts in 1930 before fading into a relative obscurity, racing in Mexico at the old Agua Caliente Racetrack. He competed for eight more seasons, compiling a total of 141 starts, winning seven.
In 1964, the NYRA named a race after him and it has served as a key prep race for the Travers Stakes ever since.
Since then, ten horses have used it to propel their road to Travers’ success (11 if you chose to include Affirmed who was disqualified from first to second in 1978 Travers).
1969 Arts and Letters
1978 Affirmed (DQ, pl. 2nd)
1981 Willow Hour
1984 Carr de Naskra
1992 Thunder Rumble
2002 Medaglia d’Oro
2005 Flower Alley
2007 Street Sense
2011 Stay Thirsty
The day they ran the 1930 Travers people may have wondered who Jim Dandy was. Today, he and his 100-1 odds are the ideal example of why we run the races. It’s because on any given race day, a champion can fold. An unknown can shine. And you and I can make a buck or two in the process.
That is Saratoga.
It’s what she does. It’s who she is.
Take her or leave her.
I’ll take her.
I’ll always take her.
This doesn’t surprise me in the least and I know full well NYRA will do everything in it’s power to protect the horses. This was their release yesterday. Happy Opening Day!!!
With weather forecasters calling for Friday temperatures in the low to mid 90s, New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) officials are taking additional precautions to ensure that horses and humans remain comfortable during the opening-day race card at Saratoga Race Course.
- Multiple veterinarians will be positioned throughout the horse paths, paddock, winner’s circle and racetrack to carefully monitor all horses before and after each race.
- Extra water hoses will be operated at various junctures during the horses’ travel to and from the racetrack, including at the paddock and winner’s circle where horses unsaddle after a race.
- Personnel with buckets of ice will be positioned similarly around the racing facility where horses pass by.
- Additional water will be provided to the jockeys’ quarters to ensure that they remain well-hydrated.
- Five-pound bags of ice will be available to patrons for purchase at selected concession outlets.
“While we have every intention of running tomorrow as scheduled, we will, of course, stay in close contact with veterinarians, horsemen, riders, and state regulators tomorrow morning and throughout the day,” said Christopher Kay, President and CEO of NYRA. “The NYRA staff is accustomed to and adept at dealing with hot weather days at Saratoga. We anticipate a normal day of racing here tomorrow.”
This morning on the NFL Network they ran an episode of A Football Life. This one on Barry Sanders. And yes, I know the headline of this blog is a variation of Keyshawn Johnson’s autobiography.
Sanders retired after 10 seasons in the NFL. Not due to injury or plagued by controversy, but because he said he was done. He retired on his terms.
Many were upset. How could he do that? How could he leave in his prime? How selfish can he be? One Lion’s fan said the difference between him and OJ is that OJ only stabbed two people in the back.
But as time usually does, those wounds healed and Detroit embraced Barry Sanders as their favorite son.
But the debate would rage on. Who was the greatest? Jim Brown? Sanders’ father thought so. Walter? OJ? Earl? Barry? Emmitt? Eric? Marshall? Curtis? Tony? Jerome? You can pick another if you want.
Lists don’t do anything for me except serve as reminders of players I may not have thought of. Debates, however, are fun. Who is the best? Who is the greatest?
Today only one comes to mind when I think who was the best.
Sure, she never broke multiple tackles and high stepped it into the end zone. She never split the seam and ran up field 99 yards for a touchdown. She never reached her arm out to one-hand grab a ball and drag her toes in bounds for a crucial first down. Although every one of those images make me kinda laugh, she did something better than that. She loved me. She raised me and six others with our Dad. And I’ll be damned if I know anyone who could have been better at it.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely thinking your Mom.
I think you’re right. Your Mom IS the greatest. If you are like me and your Mom has left this world for another, then like me and mine, your Mom was the greatest.
Mom – yours, mine, others. The greatest.
Six months ago, after a stroke that left her unable to speak while fighting Stage 4 Lung Cancer, I sat beside her hospital bed. With her hand in mine I did what any boy would do at that time, I thanked her for everything I could think of. I needed 40+ years to tell her it all, but as it happened I only had a day. I felt she needed to know that she was more incredible than she ever gave herself credit for. I felt she needed to know that I knew the sacrifices she made for me. I felt she needed to know that I love her as much as a boy could love his Mom. I never felt more proud to be a Momma’s boy.
A day later the good Lord decided He wanted her with him. She was now with her daughter Maria, and her son John – both of whom she has not seen since she lost them in infancy. It was time for her to be with her beautiful sister Mary (an incredible lady in her own right) and her own Mom and Dad.
It is the very first Mother’s Day that John and Maria get to spend with their Mommy. For them, it is a beautiful day. It is one that I, and my siblings and even my Dad, should be happy for. But like anyone else, even though we are happy for them, we’d be a hell of a lot happier if she were here with us…
…high steppin’ it into the end zone.
To my four sisters Catherine, Loretta, Louise and Frankie, and two sister’s in law Brenda and Janine, to the mother of my Stacy, Pattie, and her sister-in-law Anna: what I have written here is precisely what your children think of you and feel for you.
It is a love unconditional. A love that each of you deserve because each of you are wonderful, you are beautiful and each of you are the perfect Mom regardless of your flaws.
You are the perfect Mom.
(Note: Mom loved Tony Dorsett, and I loved Earl Campbell).
The last time Runaway Jim ran – February 7 – I started writing a blog post. But it didn’t really feel like much at the time or worth posting, so I didn’t. Well, sure, it is months later but who is counting. Here is what I wrote:
It is as real as any other feeling I’ve had. He can do this. He can win. He has a shot. I have seen tens of thousands of races in my life and there are reasons why they run the races and favorites usually win only one-third of the time.
So, why can’t he win?
Runaway Jim entered today’s race in post 12 at morning line odds of $15-1. Bad post, high odds. It doesn’t look swell from the outset.
A new bit to help his airflow when he runs and a change of jockey to Joe Bravo and we have renewed faith.
Today marks his 24th start. For the 24th time I think he has a shot. For the 24th time I am hoping he gets a clean trip. I am hoping he comes back safe. I am hoping he wins.
In his first 23 starts I hoped for all of those things. If you enter the starting gate you have a shot. He has had more than his fair share of rough trips, and I mean rough. In one race a horse clipped heels with him, stumbled, catapulted the rider who somersaulted in the air and landed on his back. He was out for a week. The horse who clipped heels with Runaway Jim was OK and RJ was a bit shaken. He had no interest in the rest of the race. Quite frankly, who could blame him? Our jock got suspended for a week for the riding infraction. In all races he came back safe, on all fours and moving fine. Twice, he won. In two other races he ran second and in one of those we thought he’d hang on to win.
He has earned over $100,000 in his career and has averaged better than $4,000 a start. That’s not bad when you think of it and do the math for the daily upkeep, training and care of an active thoroughbred.
In short, Jim has been good to us.
But as I type this, less than an hour before his next (the 24th) start, I feel the same bit of worry and anxiety I usually feel, only tempered from those trips to Saratoga.
Stacy is at work and she will use my 4NJBets account to watch from there. I am home, out of work (that is, until Monday) and will watch on my laptop. I have no idea where the rest of RJ’s owners are watching and if, in fact, they are in a place where they can see the race.
I want to bet. I won’t. I don’t have the discretionary income to do so, but I’d like to.
He just opened at 17-1….
And that was all I wrote. I stopped because I got a phone call and then distracted.
So, what happened?
Well, it was the damndest thing.
But my fears were realized in this race. He came back a bit sore. His knee wasn’t the greatest. A week or two later we laid him up for some rest thinking he will come back in late spring early summer.
Like I said Jim has been good to us, and his owners are good to their horses. Their well being comes first. Period. No more chances are to be taken.
Runaway Jim ended his career a winner. Gutting out a victory by the slimmest of margins, giving every one of us who knows him and love him an incredible thrill and memories we will forever be grateful for. Now, retired and living on a farm in Millstone, NJ he is galloping happily and bucking and playing in his paddock. Our friends who house him think he should get back to the track. But deep down they know what is best. We all do. Jim is having fun now. He is enjoying his life in a safe and happy environment and his goofy playfulness is him telling us what really matters. That he is happy.
Play, Jim. Play!
I am, oh, six months behind on this. Breaking news this most certainly is not.
However, I did read today a CHRB report handed down in the past few days. It stated, to paraphrase, in spite of a fast response from paramedics from the Alameda County Fair and the county fire department, the life of jockey Jorge Herrera could not be saved. Herrera suffered head injuries in a spill last July 5, 2012.
According to a coroner’s report, Herrera died of blunt head trauma. The racing board’s investigation concluded that Herrera was struck by his mount, or a trailing horse.
The report by the CHRB refuted allegations that paramedics were slow to respond to Herrera on the racetrack.
Why am I posting this? Because I was away in South Carolina when this happened and had not heard of it until today.
Why does that matter? Because I was there, at Portland Meadows, when Herrera won his first thoroughbred race and wrote about it. I was also there a week later when he took a spill.
It was a Monday afternoon at Portland Meadows when he was unseated by his mount Nasty Jab after clipped heels with another and stumbling.
I spent hours in Legacy Emmanuel Hospital at his bedside, as I would with any jockey who had a spill.
According to the release I wrote:
Herrera, a 10-pound apprentice, won the first race of his career last Monday, Jan. 3 and won a pair on Sunday and one earlier on Monday’s card. He has a total of four wins in 29 starts with three second place finishes and five thirds at Portland Meadows.
Herrera and his mount, Nasty Jab, moved inside approaching the eighth pole when the pair clipped heels with Arctic Warning. Nasty Jab then stumbled, unseating Herrera, who did a complete somersault in mid-air, tucked and rolled before landing on the surface.
Herrera got up on his own within seconds of landing and walked to the ambulance.
Nasty Jab returned from the incident unharmed.
X-Rays showed he fractured the facet joint of his seven cervical vertebrae, but did not suffer any neurological deficits as a result of the spill. Facet joints connect the bony arches of each of the vertebral bodies. There are two facet joints between each pair of vertebrae, one on each side. Facet joints connect each vertebra with the next vertebra above and below.
To be honest, I do not remember a great deal about Jorge. He was a nice kid. Great, big and good looking smile and quite frankly, as polite as anyone I have ever known.
The DRF reported he was a 33 year old native of Jalisco, Mexico. Since that day in 2005 when he won his first race, he amassed only 64 in total from 1,104 mounts. Of the 64 winners, 55 were on thoroughbreds, the rest were quarter-pounders and Arabians.
Success of a jockey can be great but mostly, it is minimal. Perhaps marginal at best, averaging nine wins in an entire year. Some don’t win that many. Regardless of the purse monies of each race, or in spite of the stage on which they perform and apart from the notoriety one may get from this profession there is one thing that remains true: the consequences of a spill in horse racing knows no prejudice. Rich or poor. Talented or terrible. The horse stepping on or kicking you knows know difference.
Herrera barely scraped a living together as a jockey. Truth be told, it could be anyone who gets a leg up.
Rest, Jorge and be at peace.
Yesterday morning I had the great pleasure of speaking on the phone with an old friend, Jason Beem.
Beem, the track announcer at Portland Meadows, is also the host of a weekly radio program called The Winning Ticket on Freedom 970 am in Portland, OR. Yesterday I was his guest.
I was flattered he reached out and asked to talk about my book Saratoga: One Idiot’s Journey to the Winner’s Circle and give my little story some publicity.
I offer my sincerest thanks to Jason, Freedom970 AM Portland and of course, his producer, Brian Perkins.
The interview is added below if you’re interested in listening and if you’re interested in the eBook for $2.99 click here and choose the format best for you.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening.
I read on The Paulick Report this afternoon that Creative Cause was retired today and will stand at stud ($15,000 first season fee).
With the rash of retirements from this years 3-year-old crop, it would seem easier to list the horses that are still in training instead of those who retired. It would be shorter.
So now I want to rant.
I understand that racing is not going to change. But it needs to. The industry will not revamp their system of when horses will begin their campaigns. But it needs to. An industry that is suffering in the eyes of the public more so each year would be too afraid to make such significant changes. But it needs to.
It is simple. Horses at the age of two are not fully developed. In fact they are not fully developed by the age of three either, however, the differences between their maturity from two to three is markedly different.
Too many horses break down for one simple reason: their bodies have not matured enough yet to handle the intensity of competition that racing can do to them.
I want what many want, but what none of us will get.
Start their careers at three, not two. Let them mature. Let their muscles and bones develop. Let them be strong enough to run without we humans fearing a horrible accident is waiting to happen.
However it will always be in the hands off those who dictate the game – the wealthy breeders
In a few weeks The Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships will be held at Santa Anita. It’s racing’s biggest day, right? (two days if you count Friday, and I don’t).
Well get a load of this will you? It is a list of top contending, stakes winning three year olds who won’t be there due to injury and/or retirement from racing:
I’ll Have Another winner of the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes out due to tendonitis in his left front leg, retired June 8.
Union Rags winner of the Belmont Stakes out due to a tendon injury, left front leg, retired July 20)
Went the Day Well winner of the Spiral Stakes and a Triple Crown contending product will miss the remainder of the 2012 season following the detection of bone bruising in his front ankles, reported Jul 17.
Bodemeister the winner of the Arkansas Derby and the runner-up favorite to I’ll Have Another in the Derby and Preakness out due to a nerve njury left shoulder, retired Aug 21
Paynter (who won the Haskell Invitational and was the runner up in the Belmont Stakes has taken ill, has been battling colitis and early-stage signs of laminitis, not yet retired.
Street Life (who was the winner of the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga and a Triple Crown starter out due to a soft tissue injury to his left front pastern he suffered in the Travers Stakes, retired Aug 30.
Hansen: the 2-year-old male Champion and Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner plus Iowa Derby winner at three tendon injury he sustained in August, retired Sept 17.
Gemologist the winner of the Wood Memorial and a Triple Crown starter encountered a setback in training, retired Oct 4
And most recently …
Creative Cause the winner of the San Felipe Stakes and finished third in the Preakness and the San Vincente has not been reported to have any injury. However, this stakes winning three year old has not raced since mid-May at Pimlico. You can do that math. Retired Oct 14.
Did I forget anyone?
At this point, if I had, would it matter?
Once again racing has no champion to rally for, a hero to get behind or a story to be compelled toward.
Well done, boys. You did it again.
But don’t listen to me. Don’t listen to the horses. Don’t let their injuries dissuade you from cashing as many checks as you can before they are actually mature enough to be running. Keep at it. And when they snap a leg on the track, tumble and roll and a jockey is trampled left to breathe through a tube while bound to a wheelchair you can shake your head in sadness and pity with the rest of us. You can write your check to ease your conscience and believe you have done your part. Well done, sir. Well done. Then you can stroll into your living area where the help serves you your tea and biscuits on china handed down from the nine generations prior to you. You can enjoy your snack while thinking of the next crop you can send to the track too early for their own good, hoping maybe, just maybe, you might have a little better luck.
But please, whatever you do, don’t put the horses first. Take care of you! That’s what matters.
Am I being unfair? No. I don’t think I am.
I don’t feel this way because we don’t have another hero horse to rally around. I feel this way because there are too many injuries and everyone keeps finding different reasons for the blame.
It’s easy. They are too young to be competing. This is why we have all these injuries and a depleted three-year-old crop.
British charges: Newcastle jockey Andrew Heffernan has been stood down indefinitely. Picture: Damian Shaw
The BHA issued a statement overnight which explained the non-criminal charges against rider Andrew Heffernan and eight footballers, follow an investigation into suspicious betting activity on races that took place between November 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011, and focus on wagers on betting exchanges that horses would lose, the BHA said.
Heffernan, who has been spending the last 12 months riding in Australia, has been “sent down” (suspended) from riding there including his mount in the Breeders’ Plate at Royal Randwick this weekend.
Reading further (and you can do so here) I found one bit quite interesting. If found guilty, Heffernan may be disqualified from racing for up to 25 years. The other eight, however, may be banned from the sport, including dealing with any licensed individual connected to horse racing, for three years.
Jockey: 25 years. Gambling footballers: 3 years.
Yes, the rider should be held more accountable because he is aboard but such a disparity in the time of punishment amazes me.
Of course, if they are all in fact guilty, then ban ’em all for life.
Simple rule: You cheat, you’re gone. Period.
Winter Memories, winner of the 2012 Diana at Saratoga, retired on August 9th, emerges from the fog. Saratoga is a staple of Livingston’s photography and the world is a better place as a result of it
If you are a racing fan you already know her. You already know she has a beautiful eye. You already know if a picture is worth a thousand words, she has written volumes of best sellers.
What you may not know, however, is that DRF.com’s blog pages include her recap of this past year at The Spa. Or more specifically, her first recap of the meet, intimating there will be more.
Livingston was unable to keep up with posting her favorite images due to work constraints during the meet. I am finding this seems true of a lot of people working the Spa meet. All those trying to keep up rarely find the time to enjoy it as much as they would like to; as much as a racing fan gets to. Fortunately for you and I, she has found the time now.
Thereby giving us two benefits to enjoy: her art and another breath of life into the 2012 Saratoga Season. She is letting us feel once again, if only for a few minutes, the beauty of mornings best described in pictures and the thrills of the afternoons in upstate New York.
I know. The meet is over. Move on. The Fall Championship Meeting of Belmont is underway. We are less than a couple of months to the Breeders’ Cup. But what can I say? I was, I am, and I will always be an unabashed lover of Saratoga. I will never apologize for it.
Please click her image of Winter Memories above to view her first blog post or here.